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Florida Strawberry Festival
Plant City Observer Friday, Feb. 23, 2018 7 months ago

Fueling a french-fried fandom

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For 80 years, Fiske Fries have been a staple of festivals and fairs across the country.
by: Daniel Figueroa IV Staff Writer

There’s certainly no shortage of food choices at the Florida Strawberry Festival. From meats on sticks to every funnel cake and strawberry shortcake iteration you can imagine, options are near-endless. Sometimes, though, nothing hits the spot like a simple, well-cooked French fry.

For 80 years, the Fiske name has been filling that craving. Fiske Fries have come from a shack near a watering hole in Ohio 80 years

Gayle Bailin (left) gets introduced to Fiske Fries by her friend Gayle George. Fiske Fries has been George's first fair stop for 20 years.

ago to stopping by more than 60 festivals across the country each year. For the last 40 years, Jerry Price, owner and grandson of founders Jean and Harold Fiske, has been swinging through Plant City every March for the Strawberry Festival.

“Plant City is one of our favorite ones,” Price said. “Each fair has an atmosphere. Part of it is public and part of it is management. Mr. Davis and Ms. Johnson are super ethical and a pleasure to be there with.”

Price said the Strawberry Festival stands out to him because of values. The festival’s management, he said, creates an atmosphere that carries over to the concessioners. When you’ve been working 16-hour days since the age of 12 like Price has, he said, that extra care and effort can go a long way to keep you motivated.

That positive energy and atmosphere is something Price also likes to carry into his product. Unchanged for 80 years, Fiske Fries are simple. Fresh potatoes cleaned and cut onsite, then fried in vegetable shortening. That’s all. What matters to Price is putting out a good-tasting product at a fair price and treating people well.

At 80, Fiske Fries has been around longer than even McDonalds and while Price said he’s seen lager companies turn to frozen products for consistency, he puts trust in his employees, some have been with him for nearly 30 years, to get consistency.

“We run into something similar because of the Fiske name,” Price said. “We’re at these different events and we’re hoping people in the trailers will follow the routine and want to put out a product they'd serve to their own family. We don’t have any heat lamps or anything like that and they’re not ever frozen or anything. People like the taste of something fresh.”

With the endless supply of food available at festivals, establishing relationships can set you apart. For many, a stop at a Fiske Fries stand is an essential experience.

“This is always my first stop when I come to the (Florida State) Fair every year,” Gail George said, two large cups of fries in her hand. “I don’t eat French fries very often, but these are delicious. For 20 years, it’s been beer and Fiske Fries first, then we get the whole thing mapped out.”

Now in his twilight, well past when most would retire (he won’t give his exact age and said even the CIA doesn’t know how many potatoes he goes through in a day), Price doesn’t know if Fiske Fries will make it another 80 years. There’s no one in the family, he said, to keep it going, but they’ve been talking to some folks about carrying it on. For now, he's just focused on the immediate future.

“For the next several years, God willing, we’ll be here,” Price said. “When ever you have people come up and say ‘I look for you every year’ or ‘this is the first place I come,’ it keeps you going.”

Daniel Figueroa IV is a Staff Writer at the Plant City Times & Observer. He has been covering Plant City since 2017. Previously, he was the politics and veteran affairs reporter at the Ledger of Lakeland. He probably wants to ride motorcycles and trade books with...

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